Category Archives: Notes from the Southwest Corner

A Grave Situation

This is my Democrat column i mentioned in my previous post from 2008.

SAN DIEGO – A story by J.R. Lind about vandalism in a Cedar Forest cemetery ran last week in The Democrat. The vandal’s motive for digging into a grave was unclear.

I thought of the Mel Brook’s movie, “Young Frankenstein,” as Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman dug in the graveyard for the body to become “Frankenstein.” I e-mailed J.R., “They were looking for a brain.”

The story also brought memories.

In 1958, I started summer work with the City of Lebanon. After several early assignments, I worked at the water works on Hunter’s Point Pike with Truman Garrett and Elmer Elkins.

The following summer I hoped to drive a bush hog tractor but was told I was too small. My big friends, Henry Harding, Charles “Fox” Dedman, and others were assigned the bush hogs. With a twist of logic I did not grasp, I went to work at Cedar Grove Cemetery digging graves. A small guy’s work?

In that era, digging graves was accomplished by hand. When not digging graves, mowing and trimming the 35 acres was the bulk of our work. The two permanent workers, “Mister Bill” and “Dub” (I apologize for not knowing their last names. I’m not sure I ever did) took me under wing. They were pleasant, interesting, and fun.

Mr. Mitchell “Bush” Babb, the manager, lived adjacent to the cemetery. He reputedly was the only one who knew the grave locations after a fire destroyed some cemetery records. I was impressed Mr. Babb. had played against Ty Cobb in the Tennessee-Alabama League before the Georgia Peach went on to fame in the majors.

Once I got over my queasiness, I found the cemetery interesting. I studied grave markers, especially the older ones.

The Mitchell-Smith monument was impressive. My father had told me about the huge granite slab’s (roughly four by six by eight feet) trip to its final resting spot. He was “seven or eight” when the monument arrived at the train depot where Shenandoah Mills now stands. He snuck away to watch part of the two-week process. After offloading from the flatbed, the monument was set on four wooden logs, roughly a foot square. The logs were slicked with “octagon” soap. The four horses or mules pulled the monument forward while the workers rotated the logs from back to front.

There were many other interesting stories I gathered from the markers.

Sonny Smithson, a seminary student at David Lipscomb joined me the next summer. His father was the preacher at the College Street Church of Christ when it was actually located on the corner of College Street and Gay Street. Ironically, the original city cemetery was located there and until the interred were relocated to Cedar Grove when it opened in 1846.

In 1962, our last summer, Sonny and I became efficient in cemetery work and learned about graves “sinking.” Some sunk immediately after the burial due to the dirt compacting. Others sunk later when the natural decay set in, especially in the older graves, some suddenly when an air pocket collapsed. We tread over the grounds without temerity.

One June day, Mr. Bill sent us to clear out an area in the northwest corner. As normal, we had gathered for the day’s work at the small stone building in the opposite corner..

With “lively lads” on our shoulders, we trekked across the cemetery on the shortest route: pretty much a straight line, walking over graves with no concern. I was in the lead. Just after I walked over a grave (we later determined the grave was created in 1923), I turned to say something to Sonny. As he stepped on the middle of the grave, one of those air pockets took the opportune moment to collapse. Sonny went down into the depression about two feet and turned ashen through a Tennessee summer tan. He cleared what seemed to be about six feet straight up. Before he hit the ground, we realized what had happened. But for a split second, graveyard ghost stories came rushing back to both of us.

Sonny left work early that summer to go back to the seminary. I am sure it had nothing to do with the sinking grave incident. I worked through the rest of the summer.

Now when I have to submit a resume or biographical summary, I include “gravedigger” as part of my experience. It has proven to separate me from the pack, and I always know when someone has read my input in its entirety.

A Hairy Tale, Part I

One of my first columns for The Democrat in 2007. Alberto’s is still there but it is now run by his son. Alberto has retired. And i bought a $24 electric razor and cut my own hair. There is not enough to spend money on cutting what’s left. So no i miss those barbershops.

SAN DIEGO, CA – When I started writing for The Democrat, I planned to write from ideas saved over the years with a focus on connecting and comparing my Southwest corner to Middle Tennessee.

Then events seem to keep popping up, demanding I write about them. This week, nothing has interrupted my original intentions.

Barber shops are an interesting study of human nature. I am not referring to the franchise stores but the locally owned shops which have been existence since the barber gave up doing dental work out here when the West was young and dentists were in short supply.

For about a dozen years after I moved to this neck of the woods south of San Diego, I got my hair cut at Alberto’s, located in a strip mall across from Southwest College on a mesa, about four miles from the Mexican border as the crow flies.

In many ways, Alberto’s reminds me of the Modern Barber Shop where I received my first haircut just off the square on West Main Street in Lebanon. Growing up, my haircuts were mostly administered by “Pop” at the Modern Barber Shop and later his own place in the Dick’s Food Mart mall.

As I moved into my teenage years, my father and I went to Edwards Barber Shop, located across from the end of University Avenue on South Maple. It was a one-chair shop.

Alberto’s looks very similar to both and even smells the same, a pleasant, somewhat musty aroma. There is a clock running backwards so it will read correctly if you are looking at it through the mirrors back of the chairs. It would have fit in the Modern Barber Shop, Pop’s, or Edward’s.

I first started going to Alberto’s in the mid-1980’s after spotting John Sweatt in a chair. John was commissioned as a Navy officer about three or four years before me. He had been a strong supporter for me on the Castle Heights football team when he was a senior and I was a sophomore. Later, he gave me some hope I might actually complete Navy Officer Candidate School when he visited me in my barracks, resplendent and fearful (to my senior officer candidate tormentors) in his lieutenant junior grade (LTJG) dress blues.

I decided Alberto’s would be good for me as well.

Alberto is a small man with salt and pepper hair and a thin, neatly trimmed mustache. Although his five children are spread from Alaska to San Diego, he still lives in Tijuana and remains a Mexican citizen. His English and my Southern don’t always mix well, but we communicate adequately. He always cuts my hair the way I ask and trims my mustache at no charge.

Alberto reminds me of Pop, although I probably would have been banned from the city limits had I tried to grow a mustache in Lebanon in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The strongest tie is not their barber skills. Alberto’s ethics growing up in a middle class Mexican neighborhood are very much akin to Pop’s. Giving a great service for a reasonable price; they were proud of their work, enjoyed their customers; and in turn, their customers enjoyed them.

Bob is the second in command at Alberto’s. He knows everyone by name. Curiously, Bob always looked like he needs a haircut with a long, untamed mane.

Still he gave me one of my favorite barber shop stories:

A couple of years ago, a recently retired man came into the shop while I was waiting.

Bob stated, rather than asked, “Been retired about six months, haven’t you, George?”

George affirmed and Bob followed, “How’s it going at home with you and the little lady?”

George replied “It’s going great.”

“You and your missus don’t get in each other’s way?” Bob prodded.

George, pleased with himself, turned eloquent, “Nah, she’s very precise and keeps a weekly calendar on the refrigerator.

“So on Sunday, I check her calendar. When she is scheduled to be out, I stay at home and work on my projects.

“Then when she is scheduled to be at home, I go play golf.

“It’s working just fine.”

When this occurred, I thought, “At the core, there is not much difference between barber shops in the Southwest corner and in Middle Tennessee.”

And there is an unlimited supply of barbershop stories in both places.

Lessons from a POW

My third column for The Lebanon Democrat was in late October or early November 2007 (i’m too lazy to look it up right now). This also serves as a salute to one of my heroes, although i may add to this one later. He is not only a hero for whom i have utmost respect, he is a good friend.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – This past Monday, I left the cleanup from the San Diego fires and flew to Lake Tahoe, Nevada. It was not an escape. It was work. I was co-facilitating a team building workshop for a California police department with my friend, Dave Carey.

Dave is not your ordinary business associate. On August 31, 1967, Dave Carey’s A-4 was shot out from under him over North Vietnam. He spent five and a half years as a Prisoner of War (POW), most of the time in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”

Dave and I met in 1985 at the Naval Amphibious School in Coronado. We worked together for just shy of a year as I transitioned into Dave’s position as the head of leadership training for the West Coast and Pacific Rim. Together, we help create a two-day workshop on leadership excellence for senior Navy officers.

Dave retired. Four years later in 1989, I followed suit. After my initial dive into my new job as Mister Mom, I soon started to look for ways to generate income in the quiet hours.

After some discussion, Dave and I agreed I would write a book about his POW experience, or more accurately, about his motivational speeches concerning his experience. After completing the draft, we decided it really should be written in first person. The original draft is on my office bookshelf.

Eight years later, Dave holed up for three weeks and completed The Ways We Choose: Lessons For Life From a POW’s Experience.

Part of my approach to writing was generated from conversations with Dave. He and I were driving to another workshop about fifteen years ago when I asked him about what outcome did he expect the audience to have when he gave a speech.

Dave said he had expectations initially, but discovered his listeners made their own connections. Early on, Dave had completed a luncheon speech when a huge Texan came up to him, put his big arm around Dave’s shoulder and drawled, “Can I talk with you, Dave? I understood every word you said today. The fact of the matter is, in this life, we are all going to get shot down, and some of us more than once.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve managed to get shot down several times. Dave’s book and his ideas have been significant guides to me as I have wandered through living and getting shot down. The book not only applies to San Diego, Lake Tahoe, and Middle Tennessee; it worked in the Hanoi Hilton over 40 years ago.

Dave’s book revolves around a question he is most frequently asked, which is, “How did you do that? How did you and the other POW’s get through that?” He maintains they did that in a similar way to how we get through our daily process of life and work.

Dave’s assessment of how he and his fellow POW’s made it through boils down to five factors:

  • We did what we had to do
  • We did our best
  • We chose to grow
  • We kept our sense of humor
  • We kept the faith
    • In ourselves
    • In each other
    • In our country
    • In God.

His anecdotes relating to those factors are humorous, inspiring, and thought provoking. I have had the wonderful opportunity to discuss these things in depth with Dave.

So I check myself against his factors almost daily. They have even become part of the value statements for my consulting group.

I will not ruin the book by parroting it here. However, I am particularly fond of Dave’s pointing out how the POW’s trusted each one of them would do the best they could, would resist the severe interrogations to their limit; recognizing each of them had their own limit levels.

I now try to consider folks I work with are doing the best they can do. This puts a whole different shape to the way I work with these people. Fewer rocks are thrown; fewer lines are drawn in the sand; fewer chips are put on shoulders.

I would encourage everyone to read’s Dave’s book. Your connections should be yours, not mine, not Dave’s. I know folks in Middle Tennessee also get shot down every once in a while.

Note: Dave’s book can be obtained on-line through the Amazon.com and Dave’s website, www.davecarey.com. A glimpse of what Dave delivers to us and how he provides us a chance to choose is in the video in the link below. It is not the entire captivating and moving speech (after all, Dave is a “motivational speaker,” and i don’t think Dave ever took a back seat to anyone in any endeavor he has undertaken), but it gives me a sense of what he is about, and i have been choosing to make my life “the best of times” ever since i met him eighteen years ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Xinjxlw5DQ

There are a series of four videos of Dave’s story in his own words if you would like to hear and watch him tell his story. i will provide them if you let me know you would like them.

Thanks, Dave. 

Whatever It Is, It Ain’t Baseball

As early as my third Democrat column over ten years ago, i began my public rants about professional sports.

i remain torn.

i have loved sports, including professional sports, since as long as i can remember. With joy i remember Charlie Trippi of the Chicago Cardinals (yes, that’s right, you youngsters. The football Cardinals were in Chicago with George Halas’ Bears, then moved to St. Louis and then to Arizona) breaking into the clear on the black and white screen when a defensive back dove at him to make a shoestring tackle and Charlie (back when the pro rules said “down” meant you were stopped from moving forward) does a summersault and continues running for the touchdown. And i remember Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Bob Waterfield of the Los Angeles Rams; Bobby Lane of the Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers who is reputed to have played several games sober or without a hangover; Dick “Night Train” Lane who not only was a superb defensive back for those Chicago Cardinals and then the Detroit Lions but won my heart when he married Dinah Washington, one of my all time favorite singers even though the marriage lasted less than a year; even Red Grange as the play by play and analyst for the television game, and Lou Groza, the Cleveland Browns tackle who also kicked field goals with Otto Graham and Jim Brown and on and on and on; and then Mickey Mantle, Moose Skowron, Pee Wee Reese, and of course, Smoky Burgess, Nellie Fox, Roberto Clemente (the best right fielder who ever played the game), Don Hoak, Bill Mazeroski, Dick “Dr. Strange Glove” Stuart, Harvey Haddix, Elroy Face and his fork ball — notice how this list is heavily slanted with old Pittsburgh Pirate players — and on and on and on.

Now, my season tickets are long gone. i am still a Padre fan and watch most of their games on television but rarely go to a game. On of the games i attended with Maureen, parking, three beers, one water, two hot dogs, and one bag of peanuts cost over $70. We were guests of neighbors and didn’t pay for the $70 worth of tickets.

i love sports of all kinds, but the commercialism and outrageous money being made at the expense of fans is totally out of kilter and i rant too much about it if i keep watching it and i will keep watching and hope i can muffle my outrage just to enjoy it, but won’t, so this is my first public declaration of rantsville:

SAN DIEGO, CA – Mercifully, the World Series is over.

Admittedly, this former sports editor did check the scores as the games progressed, but I didn’t watch. I chuckled occasionally thinking of what Fred Russell, the dean of Southern sports writers would have thought of what should be called “money ball,” which is not the strategy for obtaining players made famous by Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics.

The games were delayed and played at night for prime time television coverage. The Colorado Rockies had to wait eight days while the Boston Red Sox toyed in the American League playoffs.

In the halcyon days of post World War II, the major leagues were far, far away, only something to dream and imagine as a boy in Middle Tennessee.

We might have seen major leaguers going up or down when we made a trip to Sulphur Dell in Nashville to watch the original “Vols” play Double A ball against the Memphis Chicks, Chattanooga Lookouts, New Orleans Pelicans, Birmingham Barons, Little Rock Travelers, Mobile Bears, and Atlanta Crackers.

The World Series was time for the Yankees to dominate, usually against the Dodgers. After television crept into our consciousness, my father and I would watch the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean on Saturdays and the World Series. Then, my father was a Yankee friend. I rooted for the Dodgers. He won.

We played baseball from March to September and watched the Series the first days of October. When we couldn’t get to a real diamond, we played on lots. When lots weren’t available, we played in backyards. If space was a problem, we played “whiffle ball” and stick ball.

As I recall, the first youth league in Lebanon was the Pony League. We played on the McClain Elementary School playground diamond. At nine while riding my bike to a game, I ran off the sidewalk, took a header and knocked out half of one front tooth. The next year the Pony League was replaced by Little League. I don’t think my tooth had anything to do with it.

What I saw of this year’s series bore little resemblance to baseball back then. Many players looked more like they played in a softball beer league than the majors. Mickey Mantle, Pee Wee Reese, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente played hard but dressed to perfection.  There were the extremists who were sleeveless like Rocky Colavito, but they were considered on the fringe in terms of the dress code. This year’s players looked like they were about to lose their pants.

Falstaff’s Game of the Week has evolved into overpaid super stars playing a modified game for the new version of gossip mongers, the sports fan of the twenty-first century.

Bowie Kuhn, who passed away in March of this year, tried to fool us by not wearing an overcoat in the freezing weather of night games of the World Series when he was commissioner. Perhaps Bowie was the turning point. Professional baseball evolved from sport to entertainment.

The loved and hated Yankees have been replaced by the Red Sox. Deep pockets rule. Strangely, Larry Luchinno, the Bosox president, came from San Diego where he championed frugality and attacked the Yankees for buying pennants. He even called the Yanks the “Evil Empire.” Now, if not the “Evil Empire,” the Red Sox are the baseball equivalent of Saruman, the second level evil in The Lord of the Rings.

Now there are two different games. One league has pitchers who don’t bat and “designated hitters who don’t play defense. So two different games are played in the series, depending on which team is host.

Fred Russell would be sad but find some way to express the irony with humor.

And Mr. Bush Babb, the overseer at the Cedar Grove Cemetery who played against Ty Cobb in the first Southern League before the irascible Georgia Peach made his name with the Detroit Tigers, would be aghast.

I must confess I am a contributor to this silly game of entertainment. Out here in the Southwest corner, I am a season ticket holder for the Padre games at Petco Park.

I often try to conjure up Sulphur Dell when I take my seat. San Diego is a long, long way from Nashville, and professional baseball is not the same. Baseball as I knew it is much like the home run Dick Shively would announce on the Vols’ radio network, “It’s going, going, gone.”

Taking a break

The below is my second column for The Lebanon Democrat. i had written an article or two for them when the big wildfires hit San Diego just over ten years ago, which led to the column gig. We were never really in danger, but we opted for caution (and me not having to deal with two very concerned females, my wife and my younger daughter, for a whole night, maybe longer) and drove over to our friends’ house on Coronado. Again, Peter and Nancy Toennies were our port in a storm, so to speak. Although there was no imminent danger, to leave one’s home taking items you deem the most important, can have an significant impact on how you think about life. i did need a break.

i should add there will be several additional columns about hair. If you have seen me lately, you will know this topic is pretty much OBE for me. About five years ago, i gave up. i am essentially bald; hair is gone. So i bought an electric razor, put in a number two guide, and cut what’s left of my hair about once a month. i am considering going to just the razor without the guide. That way, i figure i can make a razor job last at least six weeks, maybe two months. i will not shave my head. That is work. It also, as every vain man who does shave his head each day  has proven it is a waste of time. They still look as dumb as i do, if not dumber.

But the hair stories will show up later. This is a break.

SAN DIEGO, CA – I need a break.

Often when my wife recognizes I need a break, she sends me back to Middle Tennessee to visit family and friends.

Right now, all three of us need a break. Although we personally escaped from the blazes, we have friends who have lost homes and had their lives altered forever. We are considering taking in one of the newly homeless families until they get their feet on the ground. Our daughter is looking for ways to volunteer to help other evacuees.

The devastation and the impact here is mind boggling. Fortunately, the only thing to keep this past week in Southern California from being worse than Katrina is the number of deaths. The fires desolated over 750 square miles. More than half a million people were evacuated. In San Diego alone, over 1400 homes were destroyed. On a local talk and news radio station today, the chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric revealed we were literally seconds away from cutting power to large numbers of residents during the middle of the crisis.

Yet at this writing, only seven people have died from the fires.

Returning from our own voluntary evacuation, we must sort what we packed willy-nilly and then place them back from whence they came. We must clean up an incredible amount of ash on and in the home, inside and out, without the benefit of water, blowers, or vacuums (this is from a call to conserve water and energy). The fires have put us behind in our usual tasks and added significantly to the list.

My taking a trip back home for a break is not an option.

So I am taking a break with this column.

I started writing this about a week ago. It was from old notes comparing the Modern Barber Shop and Pop’s Barber Shop of my youth to one I have frequented out here named Alberto’s Barber Shop. While writing, I expanded the idea into some good stories about barber shops.

Today, my break is to indulge in these two stories: your break and mine. I will discuss the barber shops themselves at another time.

The first is a true story which I witnessed in Alberto’s. While I was waiting for a haircut, a man who recently had retired came in. Bob, one of the barbers, stated rather than asked, “Been retired about six months, haven’t you, John.”

John affirmed and Bob followed, “How’s it going at home with you and the little lady?”

John replied “It’s going great.”

“You and your missus don’t get in each other’s way?” Bob prodded.

John, obviously pleased with himself, turned eloquent, “Nah, she’s very precise and keeps a weekly calendar on the refrigerator.

“So on Sunday, I check her calendar. When she is scheduled to be out, I stay at home and work on my projects.

“Then when she is scheduled to be at home, I go play golf.

“It’s working just fine.”

One of my favorite stories has taken on many variations as Polish jokes become Texas Aggie jokes, and so on. My version is about a barber in a small town in Middle Tennessee. A sailor was en route to his new duty station when he stopped for a haircut.

When finished, he asked the barber what he owed. The barber told the sailor it was free because of the service the sailor was giving to the country. The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop, he found a six pack of beer and a note of thanks from the sailor.

About a week later, a Navy Chief Petty Officer came by, also while en route to his new duty station. The chief also received a free haircut. The next morning, the barber found a bottle of Jack Daniels and a thank-you note.

Several weeks later, a Navy lieutenant showed up with the same result. The next morning gift was a bottle of a fine French Bordeaux.

Finally, about a month later, an admiral shows up. After giving another free haircut, the barber was excited about what he would find on his doorstep. The next morning he hurried to the shop and there on the door step were a dozen admirals waiting in line.

My break is over. It is good to laugh, even when things are tough. I hope you enjoyed the break.

 

My Connection, an Introduction to a Beginning

i have a lot on my plate today and i am a bit too tired: i slept well and long last night, which for some reason makes me sleepy in the mornings requiring a nap, both the joy and the bane of old people. i mean, you may be only as old as you feel, but right now, i feel old. Tomorrow, when my Friday morning golfers tee off just past dawn i will feel young again (for about three holes when reality will set in). i also have been posting here much less frequently than i intended. i also am feeling homesick and hope this new idea reconnects me with back home. i plan to re-post the best of my Lebanon Democrat columns here on a yet to be decided frequency.

This is the first column of my “Notes from the Southwest Corner” written in October 2007. i wrote 500 of them, one every week for just shy of ten years. It certainly wasn’t for the money: i payed for a round or three of golf with my monthly fee. But it was one of the most satisfying things i’ve done in my life. Thank you, Amelia Hipps, Jared Felkins, The Lebanon Democrat, and the dear hearts and gentle people of my home town. i hope you enjoy revisiting those halcyon days of column writing.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: My Connection
by Jim Jewell

SAN DIEGO, CA – I live in San Diego. My home remains Lebanon.

I live here because I married a native, a rare breed when I met her. Yet I am more of a Middle Tennessean now than when I left for the Navy in 1967.

I like San Diego. In Tennessee, I cannot see Navy ships from the top of my hill. My home does not require an air conditioner. But Lebanon has a charm which won’t let go. I have said many times, the song “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” describes my feelings.

I am torn between two worlds.

I probably have had more jobs than almost anyone. The Navy was largely responsible: I was a first lieutenant, anti-submarine officer, and shipyard coordinator for a sonar suite installation on a destroyer; executive officer of a Navy unit aboard a merchant marine troop ship; anti-submarine officer on a guided-missile destroyer leader; a destroyer chief engineer and shipyard overhaul coordinator; an NROTC associate professor; current operations officer for an amphibious squadron; weapons officer, overhaul coordinator, and training officer on an helicopter carrier; executive officer of  a destroyer tender; director of leadership training, and facilitator for an excellence seminar. I was also sports editor of the Watertown Daily Times in New York between my first Navy obligation and reinstatement to active duty.

Fifteen jobs in twenty-three years.

Generating the list, I also considered other jobs I’ve had, starting at ten years old. This includes yard maintenance; newspaper delivery; water plant worker; grave digger; service station attendant; auto parts inventory worker; camp counselor; clothes salesman; sports writer; newspaper correspondent; and radio announcer. Eleven jobs in fourteen years.

After the Navy, I carried on job instability.

A life-long job was created when my wife gave birth to our second daughter the day I retired. In a little more than a week, I went from being a commander to “Mr. Mom.”

In this capacity, I chased more occupations: writing the first draft of a friend’s book about his Prisoner of War (POW) experience in Vietnam; organization development consultant; energy regulatory newsletter editor; facilitator for Department of Energy nuclear site reorganization; career transition consultant; automobile sales trainer; customer service trainer; business development manager; military training marketer; business management columnist; awards shop manager; and executive coach.

The jobs in this phase total fourteen, bringing the grand total to forty jobs. That’s pretty close to being a jack of all trades. I believe “master of none” also applies.

Underlying all of this flitting about have been three constants. I have a great love for my family, who remain my top priority. Lebanon has always been my home, and I remain connected. Finally, I have always had the desire to write.

This column attempts to tie the three together. “Notes from the Southwest Corner” is intended to give my perspective on Middle Tennessee, a recollection of my youth, and other thoughts I would like to share.

I want to describe places I’ve been and people who affected me. There will be some thoughts about running an organization and some “sea stories.” I plan to present similarities and differences between life on the “left coast” and in Middle Tennessee.

I won’t tell you HOW to do anything. Most of you are as smart as me and can figure it out on your own. I will refrain from political comments. Also, I don’t plan to make any religious pitches.

My goal is to write well for a place I love. I am shooting to give you anecdotes and thoughts which you can use as you see fit to your benefit.

From birth until 1967, I lived across the street from J. Bill Frame. He was the publisher of the Lebanon Democrat. He was the most intelligent, knowledgeable person I have ever known. He was also kind, and understanding. The Democrat was journalism as I knew it then, and he may be the reason I have this drive to write. J. B. Leftwich, while a professor at Castle Heights taught me journalism.

So in a way, I have returned home. It is with joy I write for the Democrat. It is with pride I write where J. Bill Frame once ruled. It is an honor to write alongside J. B. Leftwich, who taught me and many leading journalists in the country.

Writing here is real close to coming home.

I hope you enjoy the read. I know I will enjoy the ride.

-30-

When i grew up in the newspaper business, i typed on an old royal typewriter with rough light brown draft paper, two-column format so the editors could make pencil corrections before sending the copy to the linotype setters. The editing version of short hand included the writer showing the copy was concluded used the shortcut “-30-.” i still catch myself putting this shortcut at the end of my drafts, although i stopped using it for the column about halfway through when i realized it was just extra work for the editor. You see, they had gone to cold type a long, long time ago and such editing notes on paper were superfluous.

Hmm, maybe there is some deeper meaning in there for me.

And i should add after this was written, i was also the Programs Director for Safety, Environmental Regulation, Military Liaison for Pacific Tugboat Service in  San Diego: it’s been a varied and mostly enjoyable life.

 

 

A Sea Story: Sea Sick…Not

There are about a half dozen draft posts hanging around my computer and the cloud. Been in a funk. Not quite some things i’m ready to talk about. Not depressed. Just inert. Tonight, i, as an electronically, cloud challenged Neanderthal, i wrestled with about a gazillion duplications of my files on my computer, my portable hard drive (not working right of course), Google, and Apple, i ran across some of my early Democrat columns. i decided to actually post something, and for now, delete the copy i found. This column, reedited here, was the thirty second one for the Democrat back in 2008.

SAN DIEGO – This is a sea story about sea sickness. It is not for the squeamish.

Before 1963, my experience with motion sickness was limited to Wilson County Fair rides with Mike Dixon and George Thomas and fishing quests with my father, my cousin Maxwell Martin, and Henry Harding.

The fair rides didn’t faze me. The closest to my having motion sickness was those fishing outings. When we got back on dry land, my legs would wobble for a while.

Then in June 1963, my parents drove me to Nashville to catch a Trailways Bus to Newport, Rhode Island for my NROTC training cruise.

I had opted for a bus ride rather than the Navy scheduling my flight, even though it would have been my first plane ride. I reasoned I could make a few bucks for my own use. i didn’t save a dime.

The bus left noon on Saturday. I arrived in Newport 43 hours later, 7:00 a.m. on Monday with a perceptible aroma of travel.

The USS Lloyd Thomas (DD-764) was old school in 1963 when i rode her as a third class midshipman. A “FRAM II” destroyer, she had no ASROC, torpedo tubes, two 5″ x 54 twin gun mounts, DASH, and the amazing hedgehogs.

As an ensign and driver hustled me and other midshipmen into a van. I discovered my sea bag had not arrrived. Trailways said it was on the next bus and would be delivered before my ship, the U.S.S. Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), got underway.

It didn’t.

It did get to a ship departing later and finally got to me three weeks later.

When I reported aboard I was escorted to the hedgehog deck (hedgehog was a short-lived anti-submarine weapon) with 20 other midshipmen  just below the bridge.

We were put in formation to stand out of the harbor.

As we passed Newport’s beautiful“Ocean Drive,” I learned the cruelty of sailors to landlubbers.

Paper sacks, or “barf bags,” were strategically in handrails around the ship. A seasoned chief took one to the chief’s mess and crushed graham crackers into milk, pouring the concoction into the bag.

Then he walked out on the hedgehog deck under the bridge wing where he could not be seen from above. With the curious midshipmen watching, he announced he always became ill when the ship got underway.

Saying that, he leaned over and made noises as if he was vomiting into the bag. After a sigh, he announced, “And there is only one way I can cure it.”

With that, he put the bag to his mouth and began to gulp the mixture with a large amount spilling down his chin and onto his uniform.

Within seconds, all but three of the midshipmen were at the lifelines, attaining a level of seasickness which could only be described as epic.

We weren’t even out of Narragansett Bay.

I was one of the three left standing in the puny formation remaining.

The sailors were not satisfied. At the evening meal on the mess decks, they served greasy pork chops and several old salts tied sardines (canned) to strings and walked through the mess decks swallowing them and then pulling them back up with the string.

The midshipmen were reeling.

Somehow, I remained okay.

My first assignment was the mid-watch (from midnight until 4:00 a.m.) in combat information center (CIC), a darkened space aft of the bridge. With no seabag, i was reeking of three days travel aroma.

The radarmen were determined to initiate me into the ways of the sea. I was assigned a radar scope and placed where I rolled with the ship, the worst position for motion sickness. For four hours, I sat staring at the dark round scope, rolling side to side. The watch section sensed I was near the anticipated moment. They lit cigars and took turns walking by me, stopping to check while blowing cigar smoke into my slightly green face.

Their effort to make me sick brought out my stubbornness. Even though I was beyond nausea, I refused to give them their laugh on me. I swallowed back my sickness.

I never came close to being sea sick again. I have been in sea state five oceans. I have encountered the worst possible conditions for inducing that terrible illness, but have been unfazed. There is no doubt in my mind, that first day at sea in 1963 was one reason, but also partially due to my stubbornness and a bunch of fishing trips to Center Hill and Old Hickory Lakes.

Post script: The next today, the radar gang found a sailor who had clothes to fit me. He gave me a couple of enlisted uniforms, including very smelly camel leather boots he had purchased in Israel. A midshipman gave me one of his “Dixie Cup” hats. I filled my locker, took a shower, and finally felt human again, although my feet smelled like camel for almost three weeks.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: an addendum to “A Pleasant Walk Through History”

lebanon-bookThis photo of the book cover accompanied the column in the paper addition of the paper (hmm…i have to think about that statement).

As per my usual modus operendi, i didn’t go back and check and therefore didn’t include the other books on that shelf: No Longer Hangs the Fluted Shade: Random Observations in Verse, Paul Wooten’s poetry book; Castle Heights Military Academy 100th Anniversary  Alumni Directory;  Grand Ole Saturday Nights, Margaret Britton Vaughn; Discovering Tennessee, Mary U. Rothrock; Dropped Stitches in Tennessee History, John Allison; Tennessee: The Volunteer State, Mary French Caldwell; Landmarks  of Tennessee History, edited by William T. Alderson and Robert M. McBride; Remembering Wilson County, published by Wilson County Bank & Trust; and Haunting Memories: Echoes and Images of Tennessee’s Past, photos by Christine P. Patterson and text by Wilma Dykeman.

And although William Faulkner was as Mississippi as Mississippi can be, his works bring me back to home. Faulkner’s County: Yoknapatawpha, a photographic essay of Jackson, Mississippi and the surrounding area accompanied by quotes from Faulkner’s novels evoke feelings, real powerful feelings, and i include the book in my list.

i have found the information about the books and their authors, editors, and publishers are almost as interesting as the books themselves.

i keep trying to imagine Major Wooten bending over his desk, writing his poetry by hand in his classroom (wasn’t it in the McFadden basement, Heightsmen of my time?) after the cadets had gone to short order drill on the drill field; the track team had rendezvoused on what is now known as Stroud Gwynn Field and will soon become history so Wilson County Bank and Trust can build a headquarters building (sometimes progress isn’t) and played Jimmy Reed’s album of blues over the press box speaker system, the baseball team had ambled down to the diamond on hill street east of the drill field to smack out hits and field grounders and lazy fly balls. And then i try to picture the erstwhile major taking them home and clacking out the poems on his typewriter into the late evening.

Lillian, his wife, compiled and edited them. i have a copy signed by Lillian, dated the year the book was published, 1994. i ‘m sure my mother and father bought the book for me. Lillian wrote, “Jim, Enjoy a chat with Mr. Wooten through this book of verse.”

i have had chats with the Major on numerous occasions.

His poetry is more poetic than mine. His is classic poetry. And it rhymes. It is thoughtful, deep, light, meaningful, humorous, and most of all, it touches my soul. Yet it seems we both have had this passion for writing, not necessarily for others to read, but something that drives us from within to put things down on paper, except now it’s on this infernal computer screen. Of course, it is pleasing to know people read what i write and like it. i’m sure Major Wooten felt the same when his works were published.

There are times when i chastise myself for missing him. He was always there on the hilltop in his Army greens, but i never had him for class. i think we would have connected. i remember him as being a nice man who seemed professional, a teacher. i had already started to write poems, mostly as an outlet and all pretty bad. i have never rhymed very much and keep trying to categorize what i write because “poetry” seems like an exaggerated compliment. But Paul Wooten’s verses are poetry, pure poetry.

In the introduction, Lillian writes when April rolls in, she will honor his request to “Look out the window once, for me.”

And in April, i will look out the window, pull No Longer Hangs the Fluted Shade down from the bookshelf and have another chat with the major.

 

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Tragedy Strikes Twice

 

This column was published in The Lebanon Democrat this past Tuesday. i think it is one of my better ones. However, my editing was bad. You see, i fried my laptop last Thursday week with a full glass of water on the keyboard. It is in the process of being repaired or the data being retrieved, but it has put me in a quandary and going back to a PC and Windows, rather than the Mac, has thrown me for a loop. Even passwords, especially to my own web site has been a problem.i hope the below revision has been edited properly.  With the help of Walker Hicks, the game is back on.

SAN DIEGO – Two events, similar but different, occurred this past week.

Muhammad Ali, nee Cassius Marcellus Clay, in case you have been sequestered, died Friday after an extended battle with Parkinson’s disease. The world has extolled Ali’s virtues and celebrated his life.

Thursday night, Donny Everett, a Vanderbilt freshman pitcher from Clarksville, drowned in Normandy Lake. Donny’s accident was broadcast widely in sports media, and the Commodores were lauded for honoring their fallen teammate while losing to Xavier and Washington and being eliminated from the NCAA.

Both were athletes a cut above the norm and both were honored after their deaths.

Ali’s claim as “The Greatest” was not without merit. He was meteor with a mouth rising to fame when I was in high school and college. I covered his bouts from a distance while working in sports journalism. He eclipsed the magnetism of boxing champions who preceded him and was, in my mind, the last great champion of the “sport of kings.”

Donny Everett, 19, was a gifted pitcher who remained loyal to his commitment to play for Vanderbilt even after being selected as Tennessee’s Gatorade Player of the Year and projected to be a first-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft after his senior season for Clarksville in 2015. He was praised for his 99-mph fastball and his ability to eat up innings. This season at Vandy, he recorded a 1.5 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 12 innings.

Yet there were differences between the two.

Ali was two years older than me. Donny was young enough to be my grandson.

Ali took me through a gamut of feelings about him.

I considered him our country’s hero when he won the light heavyweight Olympic gold medal in 1960.

In February 1964, I listened to the Clay-Liston championship fight on my small radio in my Vanderbilt dorm room. I was mesmerized. While many sports writers and fans found his antics and braggadocio unattractive, I thought he was marvelous.

When he changed his name to Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam shortly after winning the championship, I questioned him and his new religion. I was on an NROTC scholarship. Ali’s conversion seemed to me as an affront to my religious views and patriotism.

As I was nearing graduation in 1967 and pursuing Navy OCS after being declared 1-A for the draft, Ali declared he was a “conscientious objector,” beginning four years of legal battles before the Supreme Court overturned his conviction for avoiding the draft. Since I had committed to serving my country, it was hard for me to understand Ali’s motives.

As the years progressed, I learned more of Ali’s reasoning for his religious conversion and how he was passionate about equality. I again became an admirer of his views and his boxing prowess. When news of his contracting Parkinson’s disease, most likely due to the many blows while boxing, I was saddened. When he lit the torch at the 1996 opening ceremony for the Atlanta Olympics, I was thrilled.

Vanderbilt teammates leave a space in their line for their fallen teammate, Donny Everett.
Vanderbilt teammates leave a space in their line for their fallen teammate, Donny Everett.

I knew little of Donny Everett. I saw him pitch a scoreless inning in the SEC playoffs. That was it. But as I read about the person and the athlete, I could not help but draw comparisons to Ali. Donny’s time on earth and his passing will certainly not have the lasting impact Ali has had on the world. Everett’s potential, his conviviality, and his loyalty are gone. He could have been a champion in American sports. He could have had a positive impact on the world as an athletic hero. We will never know.

I believe Ali’s words about how he would like to be remembered would be shared by Donny had the young man had the chance to think about it:

“I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous, and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him, and who helped as many people as he could. As a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what. As a man who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love. And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”

 

A Pocket of Resistance: My dog and the turkey: Thanksgiving Apologies to the Barefoot Contessa

 

There are four reasons i don’t have a dog. The first reason is i  have had to put two down, and i don’t plan to have another until i am absolutely sure i will go first.

The second reason is related to the first as i do not want the burden of trying to take care of a dog while Maureen and i are traveling quite a bit.

The third reason is i am not sure i want another dog unless i can be sure the last one will be exactly like my middle one. My first (and my ex-wife’s as we got her for our wedding present to each other; but she recognized the bond and allowed me to keep the dog) was an Old English Sheepdog we named “Lady Snooks of Joy” paying homage to her ancestry and my Uncle Snooks Hall. i loved Snooks, even loved the 45-minutes of daily combing to which i adhered most of the time. i have numerous fond memories of her exploits. The last dog Maureen and i had, Lena, was a wonderful dog who did a lot of amazing things. Her affection for us was unbounded and the affection was returned.

Then there was Cass. Cass was my dog.

He was named for Ike McCaslin, the protagonist in William Faulkner’s “The Bear.” It turned out he reminded me of “Lion,” the dog in the story, the bear, and Ike himself.

Cass was a Labrador. Technically, he was a yellow lab, but his coat was golden in color.

Cass was an independent cuss who, for all practical purposes, flunked two obedience classes, the basic in Florida, and the advanced in El Cajon. He loved children anywhere, anytime. He loved people in general, and i don’t recall any incident of him even growling at a person.

Cass would take on any other dogs if they stumbled into his territory, which included two dobermans at one time, and a 125# German Shepard. He bowled over o’possums. He played with coyotes. He chased roadrunners, and damn near broke my arm almost catching one on a trail just east of our old home. He body surfed on Coronado’s dog beach (and would gather an audience from 50 to 100 beachgoers to watch).

Cass would run away at any opportunity. Boy, would he run away. But i would know he was running down the canyon and through a neighborhood at the bottom of the hill to an open space. i would get in  my “family truckster” (as my older daughter labeled my mini-van), drive the two miles to the open space, and open the door. Cass would jump in, his tongue and tail wagging, and ride happily in the shotgun seat back to the house.

i don’t think there will ever be one like him for me. Hence, i am reluctant to get another.

The fourth reason is also due to Cass. He did not eat a turkey, but once, he did clean two marinated pork chops off the kitchen counter as i was preparing the grill for cooking. And when i smoked my first turkey with Maureen, i  did use the bucket, normally his water dish, for marinating the turkey. 

So Cass was the inspiration for the dog in this recipe. And as long as i am smoking turkeys for Thanksgiving, i don’t wish to have to use the dog’s water dish.

This recipe has been published several times. i am thinking of republishing it every Thanksgiving as JB Leftwich published a recipe of his mother’s (i think) for a Christmas column (i think) every year. – Okay, one of you Leftwich’s, keep me straight on this. So i am starting my tradition in honor of Coach, and, of course, Cass.

This particular version was a column for The Lebanon Democrat:

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Thanksgiving Apologies to the Barefoot Contessa

SAN DIEGO—Holidays, except for the weather, are pretty much the same for me out here in the southwest corner or back in Tennessee. To start, no one will let me smoke the turkey.

When I was growing up in Lebanon, and every time I return there for a holiday, my mother cooks the turkey. When there are only a few of us there, she makes a chicken taste like a turkey. She roasts the turkey, or the chicken, in the oven, and it comes complete with dressing and gravy. When we have a holiday out here, my wife cooks the turkey the same way my mother cooks the turkey. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I volunteer to cook the turkey. Every year, whether in Tennessee or out here in the Southwest corner, whoever is in charge of turkeys says no. They profess to love the turkey the way I fix it, but they say another time would be better. They say they want a traditional turkey.

I picked up turkey cooking while I was spending some considerable time about two-thirds of the way between here in the southwest corner and Tennessee. The Colonel, grandfather of my older daughter, lived up in Paris, Texas, and he fed me my first smoked turkey. I loved it. Since then, I have modified his recipe somewhat and do cook one fine smoked turkey. Since I can’t have it out here or in Tennessee, I thought someone with fewer traditionalists in their immediate family might like to have the recipe to try for the holidays.

Smoking a Turkey

INGREDIENTS:

  1. A turkey. This is fairly important to the success of the whole affair. Pick a good one. The critical part is to make sure it will fit in the smoker
  2. 1 container large enough to hold the turkey and cover it with the magic elixir. I’ve been known to use a plastic bucket, but sometimes the dog gets upset as we normally use it for his water dish. This is okay as long as we stay out of biting reach of the dog for two or three days.
  3. 1 smoker, probably any kind that claims to be a smoker and any number of possible jury rigs would work; however, if I were using a “Weber” or like vessel, I would make sure that there was extra water in the smoker).
  4. 1 bottle of beer. Beer in longnecks is preferable but one should not become too concerned about the type of beer as “Lone Star” is a bit too elegant for this type of cooking. Besides, we wouldn’t want to waste a beer worth drinking on some dumb turkey. If one is desperate and doesn’t mind subjecting oneself to abject humiliation, it is permissible to stoop to using a can of beer.
  5. 1\2 cup of Madeira. Again, I wouldn’t be overly concerned about the quality of the wine, and in truth, any red wine is probably okay. However, I would stay away from “Night Train” wine as it has been known to eat through barbeque grills, smokers, and anything made of material weaker than that used in hulls of nuclear submarines. But it is cheap.
  6. Angostura bitters
  7. Worcestershire sauce
  8. Chili powder
  9. Oregano
  10. Sage
  11. Honey
  12. Molasses
  13. Undoubtedly, there are numerous items that I have forgotten to list here, but that’s okay as it really depends on what your individual taste is — I don’t suggest substituting low fat milk for the beer, but most everything else is probably okay — and if it’s really important, I’ll realize I left it out when I get to the narrative of how to use all this stuff and include the forgotten ingredient there.

PREPARATION:

Thaw the turkey. Take all those weird things that they put in those plastic packages inside the turkey and cook them in a skillet without the plastic packages, turning them frequently. Then feed what you just cooked to the dog. It might placate him enough to keep him from biting you for taking away his water bucket. If there are traditionalists in the bunch, give the stuff to them rather than the dog and let them make gravy.

Put the turkey in large container. Pour beer and Madeira over turkey. If you have not allowed about 24 hours for the turkey to thaw or about 8-12 hours for marinating the turkey, call your invited guests and advise them that the celebration will be about two days later than indicated on the original invitation.

Sprinkle other ingredients over the turkey. Be plentiful. It’s almost impossible to get too much.

Crunch the garlic cloves I didn’t mention in the ingredients and add to the container. I normally use about four normal sized cloves for a normal sized turkey. Also add the previously omitted bay leaves, about 6-8 for that same normal sized bird.

Add enough water to cover the turkey although it probably wouldn’t be a disaster if a leg partially stuck out. Then put the container in a safe place, unless of course, you want the dog to be rapturously happy and not bite you until long after his teeth have fallen out.

Allow to sit undisturbed for 6-10 hours (longer is better and ten hours is not necessarily the upper limit but exceeding ten hours may have some impact on when you either eat or get tired of the turkey taking up all that safe space).

Put the turkey on smoker grill above water pan after lighting the charcoal (one or two coals burning well is the best condition for the charcoal) and placing soaked hickory chips, which I also forgot to mention, earlier on the charcoal — again, be plentiful — after soaking the chips for at least 30 minutes. Pour remaining magic elixir over the turkey into the water pan. Add as much water to the water pan as possible without overflowing and putting out the fire below. Cover. Do not touch. Do not look. Do not peek…unless it doesn’t start to smoke in about thirty minutes. Then peek. If it’s smoking, leave alone for at least six hours for a large normal sized turkey. It is almost impossible to overcook if you have added enough water at the outset. You should check and add water or charcoal throughout the process. I have found that mesquite charcoal is the best, as it burns hotter. Regular charcoal will do fine but will require more checking.

The secret to the whole process is to cook extremely slow, as slow as possible and still start the fire.

Serve turkey, preferably without the garlic cloves or bay leaves. Now is the time for “Night Train” wine or the good beer. Serve “Night Train” very cold as indicated on the label.

The turkey’s also good cold.

Shoot the dog.

i was kidding about the last paragraph. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving…and give thanks for what we have.